Saturday, October 24, 2009

21 Pentecost Yr B

We take up with the gospel of Mark again in the shadow of Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. This story of the blind Bartimaeus is the last story of Jesus’ ministry, before the cross and the passion. It is a story of call, healing, and discipleship. I recently suggested that I think Jesus must be an Episcopalian, he keeps telling those he healed not to tell anyone, not much good for evangelism. Well this time, I think the characters in this story must be Episcopalian. There Bartimaeus sits on the side of the road, probably with many other beggars near the gate of the city, where beggars were wont to sit. When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus was in the house, he shouts and says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is where I’m sure there were Episcopalians on that road, many sternly ordered him to be quiet. Bartimaeus’ declaration and claim that Jesus is Son of David may have something to teach us all.

Call him here. A short sentence and a clear command to call the man. And so they do. They tell him that Jesus is calling him. Bartimaeus leaps up and throws off his cloak with which he begged, and came to Jesus. Jesus’ question of Bartimaeus is the same question that Jesus asked James and John only a moment ago. "What do you want me to do for you?" But the contrast between the request of James and John and Bartimaeus is telling. James and John ask for power, Bartimaeus asks for sight. Call, healing, and discipleship. Very unlike the power and status that James and John were all about, and Bartimaeus wasn’t even a so called disciple.

Jesus called the disciples, Jesus said to them, come, follow me, and they did, they left everything to follow Jesus. We do need to give them credit for that. The difference I believe is in what follows. It seems the healing; the transformation of James and John was a bit long in coming, not unlike most, if not many of us. It takes time to be changed by God’s amazing and abundant love. For most of us that doesn’t happen immediately, it happens gradually. I’ve spoken in recent weeks about the importance of examining what it is that makes us fat, what barriers we set up in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others, what burdens we need to set down so that we may follow God’s love in Jesus Christ. We are much more like James and John than we are like Bartimaeus. For many of us, our blindness is not immediately noticeable to others, unlike Bartimaeus whose blindness was obvious. Our hurts and pains are buried deep and wide, and instead of being healed, like Bartimaeus, we look to taking power and control, like James and John. The call to Jesus is to also open ourselves up, to reduce our baggage, to lay our burdens down, it’s hard to hear the call when we can’t listen, it’s hard to follow when what we carry is so heavy, it’s hard to move when we’ve built our sturdy wall.

Being healed changed Bartimaeus’ life completely. There’s some good and some not so good about being healed. The good part for Bartimaeus was being restored to the community. As a blind man in that culture he was outcast, on the margins, unseen by any who walked by him on that road, his work was begging. As a man restored to society, he had to get a job. There is risk involved in being healed. There is risk involved in transformation. Life will never, can never be the same. Out of what seems like death comes resurrection. We cling so desperately to that which we believe is our identity, that which we have defined ourselves by. Letting go of what we believe defines us to take on our true identity may hurt and is hard. But unless and until we let die what is killing us, we can never be healed, we will never be transformed into the new person in Christ that gives new life. The Good News is that when we do let die what is killing us, there will be new life in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.

Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. The way at this point is to the cross, which is where the rest of the story takes place. Call, healing, discipleship. Not easy, no more business as usual, always death before resurrection. Discipleship, following Jesus on the way, to the cross, all the way to resurrection, is not about gaining or wielding power and status, and it is not about pain and suffering for suffering sake, or for the sake of martyrdom, but is about embracing this life with all it entails. It is as much about joy, thanksgiving and gratitude, as it is about pain, suffering and tragedy. It is about our God’s willingness to be with us in the middle of it all, which is very different than the gods the 1st century Mediterranean people told each other about, those were gods who were trying to get out of this life, who were trying to be immortal and powerful, not to be in the mess and the joy with humanity.

Bartimaeus is called, healed, and in faith follows Jesus. Had Bartimaeus known what lie ahead for Jesus and for the rest of the followers, they might have bailed, who knows. The journey to and through the cross is as difficult as it is exhilarating, discipleship is not for the feint of heart. It was only a very short period of time between Bartimaeus being healed, being restored to the community, and Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Bartimaeus could easily have it wasn’t worth it, why bother, what happened to the reward, where’s the power and status in all this.

So discipleship as Bartimaeus shows us is not about the reward, it is about the journey. It is about being accompanied by Jesus on the road, it is about accompanying others on the journey, it is about seeing, seeing, the grace, the joy, the wonder, in all that life throws at us, because we know. We know that resurrection happens. We know that life always wins over death. We know that we are part of resurrection. There is hope. There is hope.

Discipleship, following Jesus, is not about having the right answers; it’s not about being perfect. Discipleship is seeing healing right in front of us; discipleship is seeing the divine in one another and joining with one another in the journey. Discipleship is being transformed, being changed; becoming the creation that God calls us to be. Discipleship is answering yes to God’s call to come, even when the road ahead seems treacherous. Discipleship is faith like Bartimaeus’.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, Come let us adore him.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

20 Pentecost Yr B

When you go to see a play, usually you watch the whole play at once. It’s not usual to see a bit of it, then come back once each week to see a little bit more. But that’s the odd thing that’s happening as we read the gospel of Mark. It’s really much like a play, and intended to be read or performed all at once, and yet we hear just a very small portion of it each week. If you remember last spring, a group of people gathered on a Saturday to read the whole thing, as it was intended. And Marty tells me the Education for Ministry group will watch a telling of the Gospel of Mark at their Tuesday night meeting.

The challenge as we hear Mark, is to get ourselves back in the action. It’s like setting your novel down and when you come back to it you need to remind yourself of what you’ve already read. The writer of Mark is telling us a story about an event that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world; there is actually excitement in every word. The Good News that Mark is telling is that God is here right now, actively seeking to help us in the way we most need help.

This is Good News indeed, and it is not the experience of those who were the original hearers of the story. Those original hearers were well versed in the gods who fought one another for dominance, gods who were precocious and pernicious, gods who were at various stages of mortal trying to be immortal. This God of the Jews, who now is interested in being the God of everyone, was compassionate, and passionate to be in relationship with each and every one of us and all of creation. This story that Mark tells is told in a milieu of competing stories. A question brought to this gospel; is this story is sufficient to bear the weight of meaning?

We have heard the story of Jesus’ baptism, his sojourn in the wilderness as he was tested by Satan. We have listened to the testimony of Jesus’ public ministry, and the growth of the relationship between him and the disciples. Last week we heard about the rich young man who could not rise to the challenge of reorienting his life to the new kingdom, which brings us to where we find ourselves today, sandwiched between Jesus’ ministry and the passion to come. We are on our way to Jerusalem and the cross with Jesus. As you continue to listen to this story always remember that it is being told, as every story is told, after it has happened, and with the clear purpose of engendering change in the hearer.

James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to Jesus. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.” Jesus answers, “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.” And they respond, “Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.” What arrogance, Jesus, just give us what we want, we’re better than all the rest anyway. James and John are not only full of themselves; they haven’t a clue what they’re asking. You and I know what’s next because we’ve heard the story before; we know that next Jesus will go to the cross. Jesus is asking James and John to accompany him on that journey, Jesus is asking us to accompany him on that journey. Jesus will suffer and die, again, it’s not about honor and status, it’s about something else entirely.

The question is is that something else sufficient to bear the meaning of our lives? Is that something else that Jesus is all about worth the change, the transformation that is effected in our lives when we give ourselves over to God’s abundant and amazing love, God’s grace. It is right here, “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to live his life as a ransom for many.” This isn’t about morality, it isn’t about being right or being wrong, it isn’t about being favored or not favored. It is about God, it is about God’s grace, it is about God’s abundant and amazing love, it is about God’s compassion and passion that frees us to be lovers and to be loved. Is God’s love, grace, and therefore forgiveness sufficient to bear the meaning of our lives? I say it is.

You see, you and I have a choice. There are many stories that compete to order our lives. And we live ordered by many stories. As Americans, one story that orders us is capitalism, goods and services are traded and some make a profit, some don’t. There is the story that says, this is MY planet, and I can use it up in any way I like. And another one, I work hard for what I've got; I deserve it. There is the story of rugged individualism. There are stories that order us depending on gender, race, socio-economic status, family make up, and all these stories cooperate and compete for meaning in our lives, they are not necessarily good or bad stories, that’s not the question, the question is are any of these stories capable of bearing the weight of love, sin, sadness, tragedy, compassion and forgiveness.

This story that we have before us today, the Good News of Jesus Christ, can bear that weight. Jesus says, it’s not about you, it’s not about what you have, it’s not about your honor or status, it’s not about rulers or power; it’s not about any of that. It is about the reality of pain and suffering and tragedy. All of those other stories crumble under the weight of the reality of our lives. It is about a God who loves us, and is willing to be with us in the midst of the pain and suffering and tragedy. It is about reorienting our lives so that we no longer live as slaves to our hurts, our anger and resentment and pain, but instead we live in freedom to love as we have been loved. It is about a God by whom our pain and suffering can be transformed into compassion and love. It is about a God of healing and grace. It is about a God of joy and compassion.

This is a story that is about all of us. It is a story in which any one of us can and does participate.

When we live our lives according to this story, two things happen. We are transformed, and we become agents of transformation, one is not before the other, these things live in us at the same time. The reality of love, grace, and forgiveness transforms us and we become people of love, grace and forgiveness. As we are this people of love, grace, and forgiveness, others hear the story of our lives and the story of the Good News, as we become agents of God’s love in the world.

So what does it look like to live a transformed life and a transforming life, one that is empowered by this story of Jesus’ life, suffering and death, and resurrection, one that is empowered by this story of freedom to serve? It means that you are the one to look for healing and reconciliation in a family dissolved by each members need to be right instead of loving. It means that you are the one to look for respect and dignity in a work place that undervalues and disempowers the workers. It means that in a community that judges because of race or status, you are the one to look beyond hatefulness to healing and reconciliation. It means that in a church that professes love for God and for others, you are the one who actively seeks out your neighbor to say I’m sorry and make amends. It means that in a church that professes love for God and for others, you are the one who puts aside your need to be right, so that everyone can have a place at the table. The life of transformation looks like you.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

19 Pentecost Yr B

Being that the Twins are in the playoffs, I thought I’d begin with a baseball joke. Hank and Frank were baseball buddies. They were the biggest fans in the whole U.S. Both were stars on the St. Swithins Episcopal Church team, the Faith Lutheran team, just in case, and coached the little boys T-ball for the elementary school team. The guys made an agreement between them that whoever died first would try to come back and report on whether or not there was baseball in heaven. Hank died first, and as he promised, came to Frank as in a dream. “Frank, Frank,” Hank whispered into his buddy’s ear, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that there is baseball in heaven.” “And the bad news?” Frank asked. “You’re pitching tomorrow night!”

We make a mistake when we think this gospel story in Mark is about the reward at the end of life. What must I do to inherit eternal life seems like a question about what happens next. But life is not about the reward at the end; life is about now. The Kingdom is now, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, Jesus is the first-born of the kingdom, we are citizens of the kingdom, now. That’s what the whole life, death and resurrection story is about. The question is not about what happens after life; the question is about participating in God’s kingdom now. The question is about who we are and how we behave as those who God loves abundantly and absolutely. The answer is difficult, as the young man discovers, so difficult that he turns away from it. The answer is about being lean and thin. You gotta to be pretty darn thin to get through the eye of a needle.

The kingdom is about being exactly who you were created to be, no more, no less. You were created to be a lover, and you were created to be loved. Not a lot of extra weight on that, and I know a thing or two about extra weight. This is about being lean. Sometimes we’ve looked at this passage and decided it was all about divesting ourselves of our wealth, a rich man cannot get in but a poor man can. There is an issue of wealth here, but I don’t think it’s just about wealth. I don’t think it’s about sacrifice or how much you give. I think it’s about being found by God, and about living right now as a grace filled child of God. I think it is about the power God gives us to live fully alive. And some in our tradition call that salvation.

Jesus was talking about being lean when he said to this young man it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. God loves you, abundantly and absolutely. But you need to be thin; you need to be lean. You need to put yourself in God’s presence, you need to divest yourself of all that which makes you fat. And you need to give up trying to buy the kingdom, or eternal life, or whatever people want to call it, and you need to place yourself squarely in God’s presence.

The kingdom can’t be bought, it can’t be bought with your time, it can’t be bought with your money, it can’t be bought with your life. That’s already happened, that’s already been done for you, Jesus already did that on your behalf. In response, your job is twofold. Your job is to divest yourself of all that makes you fat, all that puts extra barriers around you to keep you from being fully in God’s presence and abundant and absolute love. After that, you need to turn to the question of the relationship of worship and ethics.

What barriers do you set up that keep you from being fully receptive to God, to God’s grace and abundant and absolute love? What keeps you from being lean? For the young man in the story today, it was power and status. The young man followed the commandments, but Jesus asked more of him. Jesus loved him, and asked him to divest himself of power and status, the wealth that defined him. The young man could not do it. In 1st century Mediterranean culture, power and status were a hot commodity. His very being was defined by his power and status, not unlike our present culture. To divest himself of that was to reorient himself to the kingdom, and he was not willing. This young man was missing out on living the new life that Jesus offered him.

What are your barriers? What gives you false security? What role do your possessions play in your life? What provides false confidence in your life? What hurts do you live out of and hang on to that are barriers to you being fully receptive to God? What resentments do you hang on to, what revenge do you seek? All of these are barriers to being fully receptive to God’s love and grace, to salvation.

Secondly, how are worship and ethics connected in your life? I love all this we do together on Sunday mornings, and I get to do it all again on Wednesday mornings and sometimes even on Wednesday nights. I love the music that takes me to places just the words cannot. I love the words that connect me to saints past and saints yet to come. I love the actions of breaking bread, gathering shoulder to shoulder to love and support each other as we eat the bread, the mystery that contains the unexplainable, all pointing to the God who loves us, and comes into our lives, the God who feeds us, cares for us, the God who is known and unknowable. But none of that matters without the leanness, without the divestment, without the removal of the barriers and reorientation to the Kingdom. That’s what the first will be last and the last will be first is about; it is about being reoriented to the Kingdom. What we do matters, what we do in community matters, what we do at work matters. Worship needs to reorient us to the kingdom, worship needs to point us out into the world, what we do in the world matters, what we do here together in church matters. Loving one another matters.

I think for many in our culture today the fat is layers of pride and ego. Many are so concerned with being right and marginalizing those who disagree with them, or who are different from them, that they put on layers and layers of fat. I believe it’s better to be loving than right. Compassion and empathy prepare us for that journey through the needle, pride and ego and the need to be right make us fat and prevent us from making it through that small space.

Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies, and Plan “B” said in a recent interview, "I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right.”

Being light enough to dance, to sing, to play, slipping through that needle’s eye, you don’t have to be right, just thin. Live your life as if every moment matters, as if each person is loved by God just as you are. You are a part of the kingdom.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.